Through Another’s Eyes: A Reaction to the Sermon on the Mount

Today I had the powerful experience of taking a Midrash Journaling Workshop with a wise and talented woman, Pat Thomas. I was only vaguely familiar with the term “midrash” prior to this workshop and was inspired to learn more about this practice.  One definition of “midrash” is: “Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at”. The way Pat put it was, “think about who you would have liked to see a journal entry from, and then write it”.  What would it have been like to be Peter when Jesus first called him a rock that the church would be built on and then calls him Satan and commands him to get behind him?  What was Mary thinking before she saw the resurrected Lord in the garden? How did she feel?

There are so many details, thoughts and feelings that are not explicit in Biblical text. The process of midrash journaling is one that invites us into the story. Not to pretend that we in any way can authoritatively fill in the gaps in the story. Rather to use it as an exercise to put ourselves in the story. This process invites us to engage with a Biblical text in a rich and personal way. It gave me space to look at the text for clues that I might not have seen before and to imagine how I might have reacted if I encountered Jesus as those in the gospels did.

We did two midrash journal entries during the workshop. The one I’m going to share here was on Matthew 6:19-34.  I was writing from the perspective of an impoverished woman who was listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  I specifically worked with the line, “No one can serve to masters. Either one will hate one and love the other or, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24

Painting by Daniel Gerhartz

I saw Jesus today!  Not just with my eyes.  I heard him speak! All afternoon. I sat with the crowds at his feet and he taught us. What a banquet of teaching! Proclamation and example, comfort, hope, rebuke and great vision.  He taught with a clarity that cut through to my heart. I found myself simultaneously convicted, brought to my knees, and encouraged, lifted up and pointed towards a new way of life.

It was worth it. It was worth going hungry and missing a meal or two a day for the last few weeks to save up for the trip. It was worth it. It was worth knowing that my boss may be upset with me if things aren’t going well with the harvest when I return. He was so reluctant to give me the days off. It was worth it though. I feel so full and nourished in a way I can hardly put words to. There’s something about this man that fill me, that makes me stand up straighter, that gives me the desire to get up and face a new day—face a new day with hope even.

I saw some of my boss’ colleagues there. I wonder what they thought. At one point Jesus came on pretty strong. “You cannot serve both God and money!” he proclaimed.  I saw these wealthy business people squirming a bit and looking aside, avoiding eye contact.

Honestly though, I was squirming too. There was an alluring sense inside me to believe that Jesus was just addressing the wealthy at that point, that the message of our inability to serve to masters was reserved for the elite. But this train of thought was stopped apparently in its tracks. Jesus leaned towards me and looked me in the eye and I heard the words again, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

As each word landed in my heart I felt a gentle love and a searing truth–this was a message for me. I couldn’t push this one over to my neighbor. Even as Jesus’ eyes lingered on my challenged face I had images of myself flashing before me.

Holding a little extra flour to give my firstborn more than siblings.

Skipping out on evening prayer to put a few more stitches in the garment I hoped to sell at market.

Being so busy trying to make our shack into some semblance of a hospitable home that I miss actually sitting down and being with my guests when I am home.

As Jesus’ eyes moved on, connecting with to others in the crowed, I felt the message settling into my body. The words of my ancestors joined with Jesus’ call….

“Choose this day whom you will serve…. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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